From left, Allison Burns, Chris Crawford and John Lombardi star in New Stage Theatre’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” playing now through Nov. 3.
It’s October, and Halloween is just around the corner – what better way to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year than with a helping of macabre musical merriment?
The New Stage Theatre production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” the comic rock musical that pays tribute to classic B-movie horror flicks of the 1950s and ’60s, is a rollicking good time.
The show runs through Nov. 3 at New Stage Theatre, 11650 131st St. N., Largo. Performances are Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets are $25.88. Call 813-817-2585 or visit newstagelargo.org.
New Stage Theatre, a new professional theater company located at Country Day World School in Largo, put a great deal of time and effort into making this production a success. Being a fledgling company, the theater space is small and a bit rough around the edges. It’s a challenge to get comfy in the utilitarian chairs; the wooden floorboards beneath the audience seem to amplify the scuffling of shifting feet. All in all, it is still a bare bones affair – exactly as it should be at this point.
The fully functioning black box theater space was just built, its doors opening in March – just in time to host a series of summer camp programs.
Time will bring about material improvements.
In the meantime, the real reason to visit New Stage Theatre is what’s happening on its stage.
For the second show in its 2013-14 season, New Stage chose “Little Shop of Horrors” by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. For those unfamiliar with the musical, it was inspired by the cheesy 1960 Roger Corman black comedy “The Little Shop of Horrors.”
Ashman adapted the story and Menken composed the music in the style of early 1960s Motown and doo-wop. The show features a number of recognizable songs, such as “Suddenly, Seymour” and “Somewhere That’s Green.”
As for the story: Seymour, a lowly assistant in a floral shop on skid row, discovers an exotic plant. He names the plant after his coworker, a young woman with poor taste in men. Soon, Seymour realizes that his plant will only flourish if he provides it with a specific diet: Audrey II likes fresh blood.
The New Stage Theatre production is directed by Chris Jackson. Choreography is provided by Scott Daniel with musical direction by J.P. Kavanaugh. Daniel also handled costume design, while Ty Fickes oversaw scenic design and construction. Thaddeus Engle is tasked with lighting design. Miriam Rochford serves as stage manager.
The casting is truly inspired. If New Stage Theatre continues to attract this kind of talent, it is sure to be an ongoing success.
Chris Crawford portrays Seymour. Crawford depicts Seymour’s most endearing traits perfectly, making him sweetly awkward and wonderfully lovesick – not to mention hopelessly nerdy.
Crawford, the 2007 National Winner of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Irene Ryan Award for Acting, makes his debut at New Stage Theatre in the role. Crawford also earned the Mark Twain Award for Outstanding Comedic Performance. He worked with the Tony Award winning Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., before moving to Tulsa, Okla., to found Playhouse Tulsa. He served there as artistic director until April 2013.
Starring as Audrey is the talented Alison Burns.
Burns appeared in New Stage Theatre’s season opener, “Maybe Baby, It’s You!” She has a long list of Tampa Bay area credits, including roles in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “RENT” at American Stage Theatre; and “Bernard Alba,” “Comedy of Errors” and “Man of La Mancha” at freeFall Theatre.
As Audrey, Burns is charmingly sweet, convincingly naïve and hopelessly hapless. She delivers a flawless rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” that will have audience members wishing for their own Betty Crocker kitchens and well-manicured lawns enclosed by a fence “of real chain link.”
John Lombardi takes on the role of Mr. Mushnick, Seymour’s boss and owner of the flower shop. Lombardi colors Mushnick with a tender shade of crotchetiness. Even when the shop starts making money, Lombardi maintains the character’s chronic exasperation. Lombardi has appeared locally in productions staged by freeFall Theatre, American Stage Theatre and Show Palace Theatre.
Calvin C. Jones provides the voice of Audrey II. His vocals are solid and melodious.
Jones joined the singing group Men of Note at age 13, traveling the world for 25 years as one of the lead singers. He is currently a singer in Let’s Get Loud at Busch Gardens, lead singer for SouthTown Fever and a sub for Rockapella.
Jones may provide the voice, but someone has to make Audrey II come to life on stage. That job belongs to puppeteer Jerid Fox of Bluefox Arts and Entertainment.
Scott Daniel plays Orin as well as a number of other characters.
This isn’t Daniel’s first experience with this show. He has been a part of four other productions of “Little Shop of Horrors” over the years, serving in every imaginable capacity, from director and choreographer to designer and, more than once, starring as Seymour. He has never played the part of Orin – until now.
Daniel’s Orin is riotously over the top. He breaks the fourth wall on several occasions, startling audience members and scoring big laughs. It is memorable performance, particularly for the front row.
As outstanding as the rest of the cast is, there are three individuals who really make this production exceptional: Ericka Womack-Brown, Eileen B. Lymus Sanders and Whitney Drake.
It is evident from the first few moments of the prologue, as the three 1960s street urchins begin singing “Little Shop of Horrors,” that New Stage Theatre was very selective in casting these three characters. The street urchins serve as a musical chorus to guide the story. These three talented women have powerful voices and, more importantly, they seamlessly shift back and forth between the background and the spotlight depending on the scene.
Womack-Brown, who plays Crystal, is a singer, dancer and choreographer. She’s been seen in shows at Stageworks in Tampa, American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg and Show Palace Theatre in Hudson. Womack-Brown also performs and choreographs for shows at Busch Gardens.
Lymus Sanders, who plays Chiffon, also performs at Busch Gardens. She’s also appeared in the Blues Brothers R&B Revue at Universal Studios Orlando and in a number of regional theater productions, such as “RESPECT – A Musical Journey of Women” at Jaeb Theatre.
Drake, who plays Ronette, graduated from New World School of the Arts before taking the stage onboard Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line.
The talented cast of New Stage Theatre’s wickedly fun “Little Shop of Horrors” proves this new theater company has a bright future in Pinellas.